Are we living in a computer-simulated reality?
This article explores the search for a global creator and the possibility that our universe only exists in a highly advanced supercomputer.
The computer-simulated universe
When you hear the phrase “computer-simulated universe,” the first thing that comes to mind for many is the movie Matrix. This is the first time that the idea that our existence is computer-simulated has been presented to the general public in an understandable way. It wasn’t about particle physics, quantum mechanics, or grand unification theory.
It was essentially very high-level science presented to audiences in a way that our slightly less awesome brains could figure it out, and the blockbuster movie certainly got people thinking. The main question being: is there a God? Second, is our universe real? that is, a structured organic existence governed by specific rules.
Is there a God?
Is there a God? This is, without a doubt, the ultimate question. The weird fact is that this is a question we can never really answer until we’re dead, and if being dead means the brain is no longer working or producing electrical signals, then we will cease to possess consciousness or sensibility to understand what our mind, body, and perhaps even our soul experiences, whether that experience is of an afterlife or simply of nothingness.
The search for an answer to the creation of our universe, which may ultimately lead to the discovery that we are the simulated product of another species, race or existence, is closely linked to the search for a God or divine creator. This is because people of all religions and cultures search for a reason for their existence.
Christians have found theirs in the Bible, God being the creator of the heavens and the earth. (In science, the “sky” is often equated with the larger universe.) For scientists, the path to discovery is slightly different.
The purpose of science is to follow the evidence and history of our existence to try to find God, or a creator, whether it is a sentient being or simply a chemical reaction. The main problem here is that proofs do not have the same meaning for all minds. For a Christian, the Bible and the story it tells are evidence, while for a scientist, chemical reactions, quantum mechanics, and the standard model of physics are evidence.
The search for our creation will continue as quickly and fiercely as when Newton discovered gravity or Einstein wrote the laws of relativity. It is simply too important, fascinating and exciting a concept to be overlooked.
The search for unity
The most interesting and confusing aspect of the search for unification is the attempt to create a theory that unifies all known forces that currently exist and of which we, the human race, are aware.
The discovery of this total unification and the ability to connect all things by a mathematical relationship will, in the eyes of some, overwhelmingly reject the idea of a divine creator, for he, she or he can surely bend these rules if he wishes.
Why would he or she put such strict laws in place? If we’re designing a video game, we can set the parameters as we see fit and give players superhuman abilities, like flight and teleportation. So, if we really are in a computer-simulated universe, why are our fundamental laws so definite?
Other minds (not just those of religion) believe that a total unification of all known forces would be proof of the existence of God, claiming that these extremely complex laws were created to maintain the balance of his cosmic project, just like in computer science where the code must be entered exactly, otherwise the program will not work properly or even fail.
Could our universe be a metaphorical tower of cards held in perfect balance whose slightest change in parameters would cause the whole thing to crumble?
When it comes to understanding the unification of forces, which is basically trying to figure out how all the forces that we know and feel in the universe are related, we must first figure out what those forces are.
There are currently four main forces accepted by the physics community. Among these forces, the public and the vast majority are familiar with two, namely gravity and electromagnetism. The other two are more famous because although many people do not know or understand them, they experience them on a daily basis. They are known as weak and strong forces, nuclear forces or interactions. Forces in Physics – Greenwood Guides to Great Ideas in Science, S.Shore and B. Baigrie, 2006.
The Grand Unified Theory (GTU) and the Standard Model of particle physics unified and connected all of these forces except gravity. A successful unification of gravity in the Standard Model would provide a Theory of Everything or TOT and one man thinks he is close to achieving it.
The Lie group E8 and the theory of everything
The man who may be about to answer science’s most important question is physicist-turned-“beach attendant” Garrett Lisi, and his E8 theory is (he says) on its way to becoming a theory of everything. .
The E8 theory is basically based on twisting a collection of identical circles around each other in different ways to create a mathematical shape known as a group of lies and from this group of lies the construction of our universe can be found. Large Hadron Collider, The Telegraph, Roger Highfield, 2007.
You start by wrapping one circle around another, keeping the second circle perpendicular to the first, which creates a shape called a torus, more specifically an annular torus, which looks a lot like a donut ring. Then, by wrapping a third circle around it, perpendicular to the first two, we obtain a three-dimensional shape.
Garrett Lisi’s theory was discovered by continually repeating this process of twisting the circles until he had 248 circles connected together, creating a shape beyond standard human comprehension, nearly impossible to visualize in 3 dimensions. He called this form the Lie group E8.
Many people wonder about the connection between this discovery and the creation of our universe or our simulated universe, or even about its place in the grand unification theory. Garrett’s discovery becomes interesting when one begins to unravel the shape of the Lie group E8 and notices that the way these circles wrap around each other matches incredibly well the way the fundamental particles interact at the quantum level.
When dissected and mapped using computer programs, each circle is found to be related to a different type of elementary particle. Some circles have been seen to be directly related to electrons, others to strong force particles known as kluons, still others to photons (the carrier particles of electromagnetism), and even to particles of the weak force known as the W and Z bosons.
Garrett then found a set of circles that he believed represented the illusory graviton, the particle that causes gravity. This is a particle that has eluded detection since the birth of the human race.
The path that Garrett takes is very important, because if what he proposes and what he works towards is even remotely close to the truth, then it is an assumption that almost everyone has abandoned, namely “a unique unification within a beautiful mathematical structure”, as Dr. Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist at the PITP (Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics) so aptly put it. Life of the Cosmos, L. Smolin, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Advances in Computing: A Life in Pixels
Garrett’s theories emphasize the tremendous importance of forms in the life of the human race. Although his discovery concerns very complex shapes and structures, it is important not to neglect the simplest shapes, for example the pixel. It may be a tiny square, but it can provide as much information about our existence as its complex adversary, the E8 group of lies.
As many already know, a computer image, no matter how realistic or complex, can always be broken down into pixels. These are the smallest addressable screen elements in a display device such as a computer or television screen.
Each pixel is a part of a larger image and the computer system assigns it coordinates on the display device. These pixels vary in color intensity and the combination of many pixels of different color intensities creates an image. The higher the number of pixels in a fixed boundary, the sharper the image will be.
Pixel density is the primary means of distinguishing what is real from what is not in our world. No matter how good a graphical representation, the pixel density will always reveal its authenticity. Frankly speaking, just zooming in will decrease the quality.
This is where the idea of a computer-simulated universe starts to weigh in, not a lot, but a little. Most people would assume that things in our universe don’t break down into pixels, but they would be wrong. Zooming in and at the quantum level, it’s clear that all matter is made up of pixels.
They are tiny fundamental particles, billions of times smaller than an atom. The theory that runs this world far beyond the microscope is called quantum mechanics and applies to the entire universe. As Rich Terrell, a scientist at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) asserts, space, time, energy and indeed our entire universe is quantized.
Everything is made up of tiny pixels, which means the universe has a finite number of components, which means a finite number of states, which means it is computable. Through the Wormhole, Discovery, R. Terrell, 2011
Many still believe that a computer will never possess the characteristics of a human being or the ability to create self-aware programs and entire simulated worlds. Moore’s Law states that computing power doubles every 18 months to two years, but over the past two decades it has doubled roughly every 13 months.
The fastest computers on the planet are comparable to, if not greater than, the computing power of the human brain. To put this into perspective, the human brain can perform approximately 1 million trillion operations per second.
If we follow Moore’s law and take into account the exponential rate of technological progress, this number of operations per second could double in 13 to 18 months, which means that by 2012/2013, fastest supercomputers on the planet will be twice as fast as the human brain.
Continuing on the scale, we see a 500-fold increase over the next decade, meaning that by 2020 computers will be 500 times faster than our brains. If these numbers hold true, a computer will be able to create a 100% photorealistic reconstruction of human life and that’s where the line between simulation and reality begins to blur.
Rich Terrell claims that if you take a human brain and a laptop built 50 years from now, both will be similar in size and volume and will consume roughly the same amount of power. If you then remove the element of physical appearance and start asking them questions and you can no longer tell the difference between the human responding and the computer responding, then they are qualitatively equivalent. So, in essence, if you think a human being is conscious and self-aware, you have to assume the computer is the same. Through the Wormhole, Discovery, R. Terrell, 2011